Drying Up: Kenya-Ethiopia Cross-Border Agreements Will Not Fix Water Crisis

Via Future Directions International, a report on the impact of some recent cross border agreements between Kenya and Ethiopia on water issues:


Newly signed cross-border agreements between the Kenyan and Ethiopian Governments are aimed at capitalising on the economic potential of the border region. The region faces a severe water crisis as a result of the construction of the Ethiopian Gibe III Dam and rising temperatures due to climate change. The building of the dam disregarded the local communities who have lived by the river for thousands of years, suggesting that the new agreements are also unlikely to support those communities.


On 22 June, the Kenyan and Ethiopian Governments signed the Cross-Border Programme for Sustainable Peace and Socio-Economic Development, aimed at unlocking the economic potential of the region along the border and bringing together national and local governments and development partners. The region has great economic potential, as large numbers of livestock can be raised to supply the leather, meat and dairy industries, for instance. The region also has tourism and clean energy potential due to its cultural and historical significance and the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project that is expected to power one million households.

Far from being an untapped economic resource, the area along the Kenyan-Ethiopian border has been inhabited for centuries, with the livelihood of the local tribes intertwined with the water and its annual flooding. Marsabit County Governor Ukur Yattani describedthe communities living in the border area as ‘harmoniously coexist[ing] and focussed on solving our myriad social [and] economic problems.’ Those social and economic problems include violence, extreme poverty, environmental stress and a severe water crisis. The receding water resources along the border are significantly affecting security in the region.

The Gibe III Dam threatens the food and water security of more than half-a-million people in south-western Ethiopia and around Kenya’s Lake Turkana. In violation of its own laws, Ethiopia did not have competitive bidding for the Gibe III contract, which was awarded to an Italian company. An environmental and social impact assessment carried out two years after construction started (which should have been conducted prior to construction starting), found that the impact on the environment and tribes concerned would be either ‘negligible’ or ‘positive’. Independent experts, however, claim that the delicate ecosystem will be critically endangered, both as a result of the dam and from rising temperatures due to climate change. A Yale videographer, filming the effects of the drought in East Africa, was told by a UN official that clashes between Kenyan and Ethiopian pastoralists are ‘some of the world’s first climate-change conflicts’. The river has kept different tribes from killing each other, but with water levels becoming more critical, conflict will become more common if displaced communities are forced to seek resources in neighbouring lands.

Just a few days before the Programme was announced, on 11 June, Ethiopia overtook Kenya to become Eastern Africa’s largest economy. Ethiopia invests in ambitious, expensive projects, many backed by Chinese loans. In 2016, China invested over US$20 billion in Ethiopia in hydroelectric projects, dams, roads, telecommunications, railways and a light rail system. Yet the country faces a pervasive poverty crisis. About thirty per cent of Ethiopians live in poverty; an embarrassment for a country that has just become the region’s largest economy, but which cannot feed its population. The government, however, does not want to admit that things are wrong. An aid worker told the Financial Times that ‘there is the making of a real potential disaster here… because the government will simply not acknowledge the number of people who need help’, suggesting that even when projects are put into action to stimulate growth and increase Gross Domestic Product, people are left behind. It would be an embarrassing indictment on both countries if they focus on economic progress but do not collaborate on achieving peace and security for their people in the region.

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 7th, 2017 at 4:48 pm and is filed under Ethiopia, Kenya.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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